Thursday 22 March 2018

Keith Wood prefers Marty Moore and Ian Madigan but Ian Keatley and Mike Ross likely to start

Ian Keatley, left, and Ian Madigan
Ian Keatley, left, and Ian Madigan
Cormac Byrne

Cormac Byrne

Joe Schmidt will name his team for the clash with the Italians in Rome at noon tomorrow but his selection has been causing debate even before its announced.

Speculation has been rife that without Jonny Sexton and with Ian Madigan failing to sparkle in recent week, the Munster duo of Conor Murray and Ian Keatley will form the half-back partnership.

Mike Ross is expected to start at tighthead, despite being kept out of the leinster XV by Marty Moore and Sean O'Brien is likely to start instead of the injured Jamie Heaslip at number 8.

"Could you start Sean O'Brien? For me, without the shadow of a doubt. He has the capability, the mentality and the experience to be able to go and do it," former Ireland great Keith Wood told Off The Ball on Newstalk this evening.

"I wouldn't start with Ian Henderson, I thought he did very well (against the Saxons) but he's very young. It's a better position for him to be on the bench and I think it means we still have two high quality second rows on the field.

"To Mike Ross, I think it becomes more difficult.

"I don't know if I necessarily want to be popping back in guys who are not fit or haven't played. I'm wary of that in the front row, especially at tight-head.

"I'd be going for Marty Moore.

"With Mike Ross, we know what he can do. He hasn't been getting a run over the last period of time.

"It's a valuable period of time to get game time into players who you might play in the world cup.

"We know what Mike Ross can do."

The Munster Murray/Keatley axis is expected to be deployed at the Stadio Olimpico and Wood sees the logic in keeping the familiar partnership together.

"I think it matters an awful lot at 9 and 10 in particular," he added

"I think there is virtually nothing between the two players, I would have gone with Madigan myself. I would have expected him to be sharper last week and he just didn't have a good day.

"I'd rather Madigan was playing at 10 an awful lot more at Leinster.

"Either of them will do a decent job. I'm thrilled to bits that Conor Murray is back from injury because it could have been very vulnerable without that sense of leadership inside."

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